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What is Wrong With Knighthood?
[03/06/2013] [Etah]

Discussions about knighthood have covered bad knights, good knights, the nature of knighthood, the exclusivity of knighthood, and the ridiculousness of Knighthood. The only thing that unifies these discussions is they seem to be predicated on the idea that knighthood is broken, and that knighthood as an institution needs to be fixed. I have thought about these discussions and have come to my own conclusions.

In my own corner of Amtgard, the majority of our knights seem to be what others would consider good. They have the character and presence you would expect knights to have, and they have been there to help any time I have needed it. From contacts in other areas of Amtgard, to good advice, to neat gear, the knights of Westmarch have been there to support the populace. Thus, in Westmarch, the institution of knighthood is well respected.

I believe what is broken and misunderstood is not knighthood itself, but ladder masterhoods. If any area of Amtgard needs to become more defined, it is masterhoods. In defining masterhoods more clearly, many of the problems we perceive with the Amtgard institution of knighthood can be fixed. By delineating masterhood from just being a stepping stone to knighthood, by defining masterhood as something greater than a 10th order, and by assigning masterhood both symbols of office and associated privileges, we will elevate its status and make masterhood a goal in and of itself instead of just being a part of a longer journey.

It has been suggested on the Electric Samurai that Amtgard’s notion of four different knighthoods be replaced with one knighthood and four masterhoods, making essentially the same claim as me: that for knighthood to be fixed or improved, masterhoods should take on increasing import. I support this idea in theory, but in practice abolishing the four Knighthoods in favor or just one would be a fundamental paradigm shift. Instead, I propose a much simpler four knighthoods, four masterhoods strategy which increases the importance of the masterhoods without seeking to abolish our current system of Knighthood.

Masterhood as a Symbol of Excellence Verses a Stepping Stone to Knighthood

What I hear most often about masterhood is so-and-so was just awarded his masterhood, so when will they be knighted? Masterhood is not seen as a goal in and of itself, but merely a stepping stone. This is one of the greatest issues with knighthood, because not everyone can or should be a knight as the institution currently exists. But everybody with sufficient skill, hard work and dedication could be awarded masterhood, and the game would benefit from their effort. But for the time being, it’s been my experience that many people don’t even bother with the effort unless their goal is knighthood.

I think the greatest current example of masterhood as a goal in and of itself is Warlord, or Masterhood of the Order of the Warrior. It was awesome to see Warlords sporting Warlord belt favors at SKBC in New Mexico this year. It showed pride in their achievements and pride in associating with one another. It made me feel like Warlord is something to aspire to in and of itself.

Warlord was originally created to be equal to Knight of the Sword but without the moral implications of the knightly award. As time went on, many Warlords went on to become Knights of the Sword anyway. I am not sure if Warlord was always a ladder award, or evolved into one, but it has maintained its unique character as being a goal for fighters in a way that never developed for Garber or Rose. If all ladder masterhoods gained a similar character, the title of Master would grow to hold more weight.

The Symbols of Masterhood

One of the reason knighthood has become something to aspire to is the symbols that are associated with it. Were this not true, the term “belt hungry” would have never come into being. The belt, that chain and those spurs are some of the things that make people want to be a knight in Amtgard. If masterhood is going to become an attractive goal, it will have to have some of those symbols. These are a few of my ideas:

  • Belt Favor: While I would never want to see a Master Rose sport a Warlord belt favor (a gold phoenix on a red background), I think it would be awesome for them to have a similar but differently colored and visually distinct belt favor. Maybe a red phoenix on a black background?

  • Baldric:In the SCA, a Knight who doesn’t want to swear fealty to the king can step back into the position of Master at Arms. The symbol for this position is a white baldric, which is a white colored piece of leather which is similar to a sash and holds the scabbard of a sword. Maybe a green, gold, yellow or silver baldric depending on their particular masterhood.

  • Signet Rings: In medieval times, letters were sealed with rings, which stamped heraldic symbols into wax. My imagination conjures images of guild masters stamping the symbol of the guild onto important missives. I also feel this would be a good equivalent to the unadorned chain.

  • Academic Stole: A stole is basically a cool looking scarf. It wasn’t worn for academics in the medieval times, but it would be awesome, especially for A&S-related masters, to sport a stole in court garb. Stoles would make for very visual branding.

  • Master’s hood: Today’s college graduates have a hood attached to the back of the robes they graduate in. Historically, the hood was for collecting street donations, but at one time they were worn as hoods. For those graduating with masters degrees, they are literally called Master’s hoods. They have colors related to the graduate’s discipline, and heraldry related to the school. I think modifying this for Amtgard would be a colorful and fun way to distinguish masterhoods.

Privileges of Masterhood

Another one of the reasons people want to become knights is because knights are given certain privileges. These privileges include voting to pass on the knighthood, and supporting a belt-line who they are training to become the next generation of knights. I will mention below how a Circle of Peers would be able to elevate deserving people into masterhood, and how allowing masters access to restricted classes and allowing them the right to establish their own line will elevate the status of masterhoods.

The most visible privilege of Amtgard knighthood is exclusive access to the Paladin and Anti-Paladin classes. I believe one of the ways of fixing knighthood and distinguishing masterhoods is to let ladder masters play paladin and anti-paladin. For one, the classes aren’t that over powered to begin with and second, why wouldn’t a Master Lion make a good paladin? Why wouldn’t a Warlord play an excellent anti-paladin? This would also go a long way to removing the stigma against people who wants to become knights so they can play anti-paladin.

A knight’s ability to name squires, men-at-arms and pages is well known. The idea behind these relationships is that the knight or noble has knowledge and skills worth on passing on. I think it is inarguably true that any ladder master possesses invaluable knowledge to pass on, and Amtgard would benefit from them doing so.

The easiest fix would be to bump ladder masterhood’s to a position higher than Lord on the Order of Precedence, which in most kingdoms would automatically give that position the ability to appoint men-at-arms and pages. For significance and branding, we should consider colloquially referring to men-at-arms and pages under masters as journeyman and apprentices.

Circe of Masters:

In the Society for Creative Anachronism, from which Amtgard borrowed our concept of the peerage, there is only one order of true knighthood called the Order of Chivalry, which is equivalent to our Knight of the Sword. But they have three other orders of peers, including the Order of the Laurel (awarded for achievements in arts and science), the Order of the Pelican (awarded for service and leadership to the kingdom) and royal peers who are titled nobles (awarded for having served as monarch of a principality or kingdom.) Sound familiar?

Amtgard roughly based our four orders of Knighthood off of the four circles of peers in the SCA. I think that a Master Smith is probably closer to a Pelican than a Knight of the Flame. So in order to elevate the status of the masterhoods, why not stick with the SCA explanation and also claim masters as peers? Wasn’t Warlord originally created to a peer to Knight of the Sword?

We could then create a Circle of Masters, which would include all those in any given kingdom who had attained a ladder masterhood. The Circle of Masters could not only evaluate the double stitched reversible masterpiece tunic of the 10th level garber, but also the last interkingdom masterpiece event autocrated by the 10th level smith. The Circle of Masters could take over the responsibility of advising the monarch, since as a body it would necessarily include all the members of the Circle of Knights and it would be open to a wider body of experienced and skilled Amtgard players.


I realize some of these changes might need to be become a part of the rulebook (maybe folded into V8), and some of these changes would require alterations and inclusions to individual kingdoms corporas. But I don’t think this represents the kind of fundamental paradigm shift that abolishing the distinct orders of knighthood would. At first glance, this proposal might seem to add unwanted layers of bureaucracy, and it is true that it adds layers of bureaucracy to some extent. But I don’t think it is a confusing change, or one that will disrupt our current system. Similarly, some might see this as shafting knighthood, but I don’t believe that at all, and certainly didn’t intent for it. This idea is to create a greater sense of masterhood defining masters as a subject of skill, versus knighthood defining subject of greater skill and greater character.

The changes in the rulebook and the corporas are achievable in the long term, the bureaucracy is less daunting than it might seem at first, and this takes nothing away that knighthood currently has, except possibly being the sole long-term Amtgard achievement. I think this proposal stands a good chance of increasing the importance of masterhoods and decreasing complaints of exclusivity in the knighthood. By making masterhood a goal, people who may not be as popular or connected may seek to achieve excellence and service in a way that will benefit Amtgard, and the Circle of Knights will be able to work closely with those who are masters and choose the best among them to join the Circe of Knights.

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